Thursday, March 11, 2010

Historic Alaska in 'Sound and Motion'

UAS to show treasures from the State Film Library

Rare footage of the 1935 Douglas Bridge opening ceremony in color, a 1969 Alaska Airlines commercial for Mt. Alyeska Resort and Senator Ted Kennedy speaking at the Democratic Party Convention in Sitka just three days after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. are a few of the treasures to be shown Friday night at the University of Alaska Southeast.

Beginning at 7 p.m. in the Egan Lecture Hall, people can view hand-picked historical Alaska films, many shown for the first time publicly. The collection was put together by The Alaska State Film Library Historical Collections and is part of the University of Alaska's spring arts and humanities series "Sound and Motion."

James Simard, head librarian of historical collections at the Alaska State Museum, said some of the films had media degrading or were in outdated and obsolete formats, so they began to digitize them.

"We've been putting a lot of effort into converting our materials to make them accessible and preserve them," Simard said, adding "film projectors are damaging to the film so we feel the most responsible thing to do with original films is to get them transferred."

Simard and Damon Stuebner, Alaska's digital archives media technician, got to work salvaging the historical media and it seemed like a natural time to showcase the collection.

"They are so entertaining and they really truly are slices of life from the period they were made," said Stuebner, who was the first to see the films in many cases.

The collection comes from many sources including an obsolete 16mm film library that was split up after the emergence of video tapes but saved because of historical interest. "We also have private donations and we continue to get family films and some that are commercially produced," said Simard. Stuebner says the home movies are some of their greatest treasures because "they are real snippits and slice of life in Alaska."

After the laborious process of repairing film reels and other media forms, Stuebner would run a clip for the first time and the hard work would pay off. On a few occasions the footage was so intriguing the office would gather to watch. After viewing over two hundred hours of archives, Stuebner narrowed it down to ninety minutes.

"We wanted to try and pull from different places around the state - we picked a fair number of short films ranging from home movies to news reels to commercially produced documentaries to a political speech which pretty much encompasses what we have in our collection," said Stuebner.

On loan from Alaska airlines are several hundred audio and video tapes pertaining to the travel industry in Alaska from the 1940s to the 80s.

"One of these is called 'Mt. Alyeska Resorts' and it's an absolutely wonderful, almost comical film about the slopes and the party life at Mt. Alyeska outside of Anchorage," Stuebner said. "What is a film festival in Juneau without a ski film?"

Some other highlights are "Timber and Totem Poles," a 1949 piece produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showing the Tongass National Forest as a great resource for timber and describing the meaning of totem poles. The Nixon, Polluck and Rasmuson Campaign Ads, an Inupiaq legend called "Three Stone Blades" filmed in Point Hope, and newsreels from Screen News Digest covering the history and economies of Alaska will also be shown, as will "The Farthest North School" from 1968, a weekly television show hosted by Elmer Rasmuson and Roger Laube that highlighted Alaskan subjects like history, art and literature.

UAS is a good venue to show the films, as UAS Marketing Director Katie Bausler had been informally asking the library for an educational collection for UAS students for years.

"One of our missions is to make the collections available to the public and it's pretty much up to us how we go about doing that and having a venue where we can show just a few of these films is definitely part of that mission," said Stuebner.

Stuebner thinks the Kennedy speech will be especially strong.

"The Alaska Ted Kennedy speech was during the Democratic Convention, but what makes this film really special is not Ted Kennedy but the scenario around the speech which was three days after the death of Martin Luther King Jr,. so much of Kennedy's speech highlights Dr. King's influence on the civil rights movement - that connection between someone that is culturally recognizable to a historical event that still has historical meaning and impact - that combination - and then to have it in Alaska makes the film really important."

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